The World of Scary Video Games
The World of Scary Video Games: A Study in Videoludic Horror
Bloomsbury Academic, New York, 2018
I’m writing this review about ten years too late to open with a witty quip about how young Game Studies is as a field. We’re still alive, writing at the dawn of something awesome, but enough space has emerged to create room for plucky subfields. Of them, Horror Game Studies is not only the spookiest, but, with a huge amount of bias on my part, the best.
Bernard Perron is constantly at, if not actually the, forefront of that plucky subfield. His edited collection: Horror Video Games: Essays on the Fusion of Fear and Play, which I have reviewed here, was a fantastic survey of emergent thoughts on genre gaming and he’s back haunting our studies with The World of Scary Video Games: A Study in Videoludic Horror.
For such an exhaustive study, it’s a refreshing read. Perron has done the grueling archival work of scraping archived websites and hand translating the emergence and course of the perception of Survival Horror. Perron pulls data from all manner of games criticism websites to track the history of Survival Horror and how that genre came to be the genre de rigueur for contemporary horror gaming.
Perron divides his latest into three sections: “The Genre,” “The History,” and “The Scare Tactics.” “The Genre” is an exhaustive, interdisciplinary approach to ludic horror as genre. Perron explores the first linguistic emergences of Survival Horror in the ad copy for Resident Evil (1996) and contemporary usage amongst game critics. Perron weaves this in with the discourse of genre film studies to pin down Survival Horror as a distinct and worthy phenomenon in its own right.
Perron’s section “The History” deals with the emergence of videoludic terror. While much of the text focusses on Survival Horror as the forerunner and most distinct flavor of videoludic scares, Perron keeps horror more broadly in mind throughout. Perron spends a good deal of the section grappling with the multiplicity of history. Tracing the myriad roots of horror and Survival Horror gaming down into the depths in which they reside. In the proper fashion of labyrinthian horror found in early games, Perron presents a divergent set of histories dependent on which antecedents we which to give priority. Perron moves from the hazy past of videoludic horror to solidify the current state of the genre especially in the light of titles such as Resident Evil 4 (2005) that shed the historical trappings of “survival” for an open embrace of “action.” Perron closes the section with a look to the future of horror gaming and the emergence of VR. A promising exploration pending on the proliferation of VR technology.
The bulk of this text is dedicated to a study of horror video games as both a genre and a recognizable history within gaming itself. The final section, “The Scare Tactics,” is an exploration of the fear itself. Perron links videoludic horror with the fear generated by other mediums such as the novel and film. Moving beyond the links between traditional narrative and cinema, Perron builds out a space for the terrifying mechanics native to gaming rather than just those borrowed and iterated from other media.
Usually I would recommend a Game Studies text to Game Studies researcher or at the furthest those with related interests. The World of Scary Video Games: A Study in Videoludic Horror has a much broader appeal. The arguments, both original and cited, on issues of genre, craft, and history are widely applicable to anyone concerned with genre media. Like all horrifying texts yearn for, may The World of Scary Video Games break free and haunt academia writ large.